Egypt’s human rights record scrutinized by UN Human Rights Committee

The United Nations Human Rights Committee will hold a two-day session (today and tomorrow) to examine the Egyptian government’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Egypt ratified in 1982 and thus became part of Egyptian legislation.

Representing the Egyptian government before the Committee is a delegation headed by Egypt’s Minister of Justice, Counselor Omar Marwan, with representatives of the Public Prosecution Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Council for Women among other state entities.

The UN Committee starts today, Tuesday, 28  February, to discuss Egypt’s human rights record,  from 4 to 7 pm, where the session will resume on Wednesday, 1 March, from 11 am to 2 pm (Cairo time). The sessions are broadcast live with Arabic interpretation on the UN website.

The Committee also holds today a closed briefing for Egyptian and international human rights organizations, in which the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) will participate via video link, in light of the ban on its executive director and a number of its members and many rights defenders from traveling outside Egypt since 2016 without trial.

Last January, EIPR submitted to the Committee a joint parallel report with a number of independent human rights organizations. The report addressed freedoms of expression, association, assembly, privacy, as well as issues of torture, arbitrary detention, prison conditions, and fair trial rights.

The UN Human Rights Committee is made up of 18 independent international experts who are elected by the UN General Assembly to monitor the situation of civil and political rights in the 173 states parties to the ICCPR.

The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations to the Egyptian government at the end of its current session, which runs until March 24. The last time the Committee discussed Egypt’s record was in 2022.

EIPR Statement

The statement of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) to the UN Human Rights Committee session on Egypt, was delivered by Hossam Bahgat, the Egyptian human rights activist and EIPR founder, as follows:

Madam Chair, distinguished members,

Thank you for this opportunity. We have made detailed written submissions to your Committee on violations of civil and political rights, so today I would like to take a few minutes to talk about what it is like to speak out against these abuses in today’s Egypt.

We have last presented information to you over 20 years ago, when Egypt was reviewed by this Committee in 2002. But today we are unable to appear before you in person for reasons that go to the heart of this important and timely review.

Egypt’s independent human rights movement has been under constant and unprecedented attack for over a decade. In 2011, just weeks after the Egyptian people’s uprising against dictatorship and corruption, state authorities immediately moved against the country’s most prominent rights defenders with a criminal investigation that remains open 12 years later. As part of this investigation, at least 18 Egyptian human rights defenders are until today barred from travel outside Egypt.

I am one of these ‘defendants’ and I have been under an indefinite travel ban for seven years now. My personal assets have also been frozen pending this so-called ‘investigation’– all part of infamous case 173. Three other colleagues from my organization have been facing the same punitive measures since 2020, after being charged with membership of an illegal group because of our work on prison conditions and criminal justice. Their names are Mohamed Basheer, karim Ennarah  and Gasser Abdel Razek.

As I speak to you this morning, another one of my colleagues, researcher Patrick Zaki, sat in the custody of an Emergency State Security Court in Mansoura, where he is on trial for “spreading false information” in an article he published about the conditions of his Coptic Christian community.

Yet another prominent defender unable to appear before you today is prominent human rights lawyer Mohamed Al Baqer, who was arrested inside a courtroom while representing a political prisoner in 2019. He too was sentenced by an emergency court to four years in prison, also for “spreading false information” about Egyptian prisoners.

Independent journalists have also been targeted with similar or worse reprisals. At least 28 reporters are currently imprisoned, making Egypt one of the worst jailers of journalists in the world. Over 500 websites are illegally blocked in the country, including every single news outlet that dares to criticize the authorities. This week, three women journalists were indicted under the 2018 Cybercrime Law over a news report about the country’s largest pro-regime political party. They work for Mada Masr, one of the last independent media outlets in Egypt. The website has been blocked illegally since 2017 and its application for a permit under the new Media Regulation Law was rejected last year.

Madam Chair, distinguished members,

As a result of these constant attacks, Egypt’s once vibrant and robust human rights movement has shrunk significantly since you last reviewed Egypt two decades ago. Most independent organizations have had to either close down, cease activities or work from exile. The handful of independent groups that remain active inside Egypt are now legally required to register under the new NGO Law, which requires prior approval by executive authorities and security agencies of our plans, activities and funding.

These and many other incidents are not just violations of our basic human rights. They also severely undermine our ability to document and expose abuses and defend the rights of countless other victims. With Egypt currently facing its worst ever human rights crisis, the need for an independent civil society and free media has never been greater. Thank you.”